“WE SUPPORT THE PIÑON RIDGE URANIUM MILL,” was posted outside the grocery store and just about every other business in Nucla, Colorado last time I visited.
These are a few of the things that I know about uranium mining.
Capitalism. Profits, big profits. Higher quality of life. “My dad has work.” Economic booms. Jobs. Higher population. Less poverty. A stronger community.
Toxicity. Lung cancer. Damaged aquifers. Rivers running red or yellow, not blue, green and brown. Lower quality of life. “My dad has cancer.” Economic busts. Loss of local farms. Loss of life. Loss of earth.
The former list I learned from my hometown of Nucla, Colorado, the latter from my college education and involvement in radical movements. To stand at a town-hall-style hearing and speak out against the destruction of our mother is not an easy task for a former local. They say insanity is trying the same thing over and over while expecting different results. But the community which produced me and my former ideologies is participating in just that. Mine, mill, then move on, jobless and desperate.
About four years ago, I interviewed the museum curator in Naturita, Colorado. I was doing a media project for school on the coming uranium boom, and had an ‘in’ being from Nucla. The woman, middle aged, sweet, and sympathetic to my concerns, was well aware of the toxic nature of uranium mining. She told me she has lost family members from exposure to radon. She told me that Uravan was home to her at one time. She told me that the river would run different colors, red, orange and yellow, and the kids in the now ghost town would swim in it without a thought of danger or toxicity.
During this same project, I also interviewed the owner of a few small uranium mines in the area. He was in his fifties, graying, and spoke with confidence. He claimed that people just didn’t know the dangers back then, during the last boom. He named a few of his friends that he lost to uranium mining, friends that my dad (who accompanied me on the interview) also knew. But he was confident that the environmental regulations and other regulations were more than safe now-a-days. And boy, did it cost him a lot of money to comply with new standards.
My father worked in uranium mines before he had kids. I attempt to talk to him about it but he says only minimally what he did. When applying for a job when I was in middle school, my dad was almost not hired because he has poor and weak lungs.
This is an attempt to describe the ideology of the rural area of Nucla, Naturita and Paradox. I mentioned the Uranium Compensation fund to my dad, and he expressed that he is too strong to ask for help. He’s ashamed to ask for help from anyone, even if they wronged him in the past.
My point is that they know. The locals know the dangers. Anyone over the age of forty in Nucla/Naturita/Paradox knows or knows of someone who died due to their occupation in uranium. But they also know the extreme poverty the rural area experiences everyday. They know that there are members of their community who do not know how they are going to feed their children tomorrow night. They know that the small community they love and will never leave could become as much of a town as Uravan in today – nonexistent. And this scares them.
They “hate Telluride.” They fear intellectualism, and groups like the Sheep Mountain Alliance. They fear any threat to their way of life, to their well being. Any attack on the mill is viewed as an attack on the community’s quality of life, as an attack on their very existence.
Some view the Colorado Environmental Coalition and the Sheep Mountain Alliance as a threat. Some even view the locals (land owners and organic farmers) in Paradox Valley organizing against the mill as a threat. They view anyone who is thinking twice about a uranium mill in Paradox Valley as backward thinking and threatening.
“Almost everyone here was here when uranium mining was happening, and when the industry went away, the jobs went away. The response from citizens has been favorable. People definitely know what’s proposed. It’s the subject everywhere you go on the streets around here,” former mayor Roxy Allex was quoted as saying.
So how do we stand against something that almost everyone in the community at hand supports one hundred and fifty percent? How do we show that we do not wish to hurt people, we wish people would stop hurting our earth? We need to act on this issue. We need to show the locals how the uranium industry creates a lower quality of life, not a higher quality. The industry causes an impoverished existence during the busts, and the lives of so many lost loved ones. We need to find sustainable solutions to rural poverty, avoiding boom bust industries. We need to support existing sustainable industries in the area like organic farming. But most of all, we must put our earth first and stop this mill.